The Study of Women and Gender in Economics

Issues of women and gender have recently been incorporated in the field of economics in a bid to tackle inequality. From the early times in history, there have been a lot of inequalities between men and women ranging from economic to academic. Women have been seen to take the subordination role while their male counterparts take on the supervisory roles. However, in the last thirty years female education has had a significant impact in many fields, a fact that has challenged earlier beliefs, expanded the boundaries of information by dealing with prior segregations of gender matters from the common knowledge. This has transformed the fields themselves, research questions as well as the curriculum in the humanities and other social science subjects. 

Mainstream models

Economic analysis started including women issues at around 1930. This started with scrutiny of the fact that there were salary differences between men and women as well as the allocation of household tasks. Due to the fact that women were getting educated they started working in offices together with the men instead of just staying at home doing household chores to boost the family income. Critics however did not understand why women needed to work at a time when families were doing better financially. The answer was that due to the raised salaries fostered by economic improvement, it was better to work in offices than stay at home all day. This was also the time that Betty Frieda released the book Feminine Mystique, which showed the numerous issues that women staying at home were experiencing in America. The book showed frustrations and oppressions that housewives experienced in their daily lives which pushed them towards seeking employment. Through the work of economists, a transition was created toward a developing interest to use economic study to understand the household sphere. This formed a crucial step in the addition of women’s work in conventional economics. Time allocation examination was used to clarify the division of work on the basis of gender and the people’s decisions of getting employment instead of staying at home. Inequalities in the division of household chores were explained through the personal choices that were made with the resources maximization assumption. Even if these personal choices were made within an agreement between the household members, they are believed to have affected the entire family dynamics. This type of study opened up other channels of inquiry into numerous household issues such as economics of marriage, the number of children to have as well as the fertility rates. In spite of these developments, feminists still raised their concerns about the shallowness of the typical models and criticized them because of their assumptions  as far as preferences were concerned, the ability of an individual to make proper choices and the role played by the market in averting the most advantageous solutions for every person. Those who opposed the neoclassical work as well as the realization of its inability became known in the 1980s particularly emphasizing the negative results that the conventional division of labor had for women. For instance, a man was seen as the provider of food, clothing and other basic necessities while a woman was seen as a homemaker. The disadvantages of staying at home for the woman had a lot to do with gender socialization which for instance brought male supremacy and women’s low rank of independence and therefore more analysis was necessary.

Alternative approaches

On the early 1970s feminists developed other forms to neoclassical models. These were the Marxian and the Institutional framework. The Marxian looked into inequality and general inclination for capitalism and market forces to produce hierarchies.  It focused on the temperament of household labor and its purposes in the economic method as the source of main tenance and reproduction of the labor force. The debate was useful to legitimate feminist questions within the Marxian paradigm although it failed to identify and analyze implicit gender relations behind domestic work and the household division of labor to address more specific questions about gender inequality and reproduction.

Feminist Economics 

The feminists’ authority on the economic study improved significantly in the 1970s 1980s and early 1990s due to the development of the IAFFE profession together with its journal the Feminist Economics. Since then, much has been written about the subject and it has continued to generate challenging questions to the field which has been referred to as disturbances in the field. It has moved in different directions which include rhetorical, empirical and theoretical study. Feminist economists have posed questions on the central emphasis that has been placed on choice as the focus of typical study complementary to an emphasis on provisioning for personal and collective well being as the main alternative aim of economics. Their recommendations have been that definition of economics that focuses on the provisioning of human life rather than simply on normal choices between alternatives is what is needed. By focusing on the significant role of women in provisioning and human wellbeing and on their conventional concentration in work that is not paid, feminists have made a huge contribution to rethinking economics. Feminist analysis has also been important in pointing out the biases of many tenets behind conventional microeconomic models such as their personal assumption in consumption and time allocation theory. A good part of this critique has centered on the concept that these models are based on the assumption of economic rationality in the behavior of economic actors and hence exclude the influence of any form of emotional attachment involved in personal choices. Different areas of study including the study of women’s labor force participation and employment policies, family policies, and other factors affecting women’s incorporation in the paid labor force have been involved. The conclusions have been that women’s position in any society is less governed by the existing laws on equality of opportunity than those institutional factors such as active labor market policies, the allocation of time in paid and unpaid work, social security, welfare rights as well as the institutional regime of pay determination. In the United States for instance, talks about this issue have produced an extensive literature on work and family legislation as well as the problems facing women and families at the low wage level in the labor market.

Macroeconomics and Austerity Programs

The process of development has not been gender neutral according to Boserup in his book Woman’s role in Economic Development. Her recognition of women’s role in economic development emphasized the ways in which development processes had been gendered and how modernization had marginalized women. This triggered an idea of the significance of women in development and this notion has been at work ever since. The feminist literature that followed focused on a critique and modernization theory and the deepening of our understanding of how development processes affected women and gender divisions across diverse cultures in the world. By 1985 when the UN Decade of Women conference was held in Nairobi, feminists had began giving to pay more attention to policy and macroeconomic matters.

Alternative Macro Policies and Feminist Research

The notion that there is no alternative to neoliberal policies prevailed in national and international circles since the 1980s. However, the break of the Washington consensus has led to the search for alternative policies implying a higher attention being given to poverty alleviation and other social policies. These were in consideration to what women in the current society really want. Women want a world where inequality based on gender, class and ethnicity is non existent in every country and from the relationships among countries. This means the society and especially men must be ready to accept adjustments in order to accommodate the demands. The adjustments will of course come at a cost which every person must be willing to pay so that the tactless discrimination against women is eliminated. The insensitivity towards the issues of gender, ethnic or class inequality on the part of policy makers has been notoriously negative and has accumulated a lot of social tension.

Gender, Trade and Finance

A more recent effort to integrate gender in economics has taken place in the area of gender and trade as well as gender and finance. The process has been a natural outcome of the increasing interest in understanding the ways in which globalization and liberalization of trade and finance generate processes that are classified according to gender. International organizations have also taken a front line in dealing with gender and trade inequality.  UNIFEM for instance has promoted work on gender and trade by promoting women’s participation in regional trade agreement. Similarly, an intentional gender and trade network with links across numerous nations has been functioning since the mid 1990s. This group has been involved in events such as WTO meetings and other international activities dealing with gender and trade. The work towards effective gender analysis of finance has been inspired by the realization that the importance of this sector at the national and global levels requires a better understanding of how men and women might have different links with this sector, with implications for gender relations and gender inequality.

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